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The purpose of GO is to show you how the fashion and beauty industries work to help you to find your place.

I wanted to give you a practical example of what it means to work in beauty and in particular in one of the leading companies in the sector: Sephora, the French retailer part of the LVMH group.

Who spends hours and hours in the beauty shop (I’m guilty too) might think about starting a career at this company. There are several roles within the beauty industry and today I want to make you discover a not really conventional but very interesting and fascinating career.

Maria Mercedes is Category Manager Make Up at Sephora Italy. In the interview, she explains how her experience in beauty began, moving from buyer at La Rinascente, to her current role at Sephora. It also gives us valuable advice on what it takes to work at Sephora and how to prepare for an interview!

1.What did you study?

I studied CLEACC (Economics for Arts, Culture, and Communication) and then I continued with a specialization degree called ACME (Economics and Management in Arts, Cultures, Media and Entertainment) both in Bocconi (Milan)

An excellent combination of my passion for art, fashion and the world of creativity, and the pragmatism linked to economic matters. It reflects my way of being: very practical (I am a Capricorn! :)) but with a boundless passion for all that is art and creativity.

2.Your first experiences were not in beauty, how was the transition? Passion or a coincidence?

At the beginning, I did internships that taught me a method, a first awareness of what it means to “work”. The coincidence and the passion then did the rest. I knew I wanted to enter a more “creative” world and when I had the chance I caught it!

3. You were Assistant Buyer Cosmetics at La Rinascente, what did you do?

I was supporting one of the Buying Managers of the Cosmetics division. I was doing different things: from scouting new brands, to stay in contact with beauty brands, the management of all trade marketing activities such as days with make-up artists, skincare training, etc. A really varied job that made me discover and love beauty.

4. How does the Buying process in beauty work? Is it in any way related to ready-to-wear buying campaigns with showrooms, fashion week etc … or does it have completely different timings and processes?

The brands that also have a fashion house of reference, certainly take inspiration from the collections that we see on the catwalk. Often the seasonal collections that we call ONE SHOT are linked to the trends dictated by fashion. Then the beauty world has its own trends and different timing. We have many new product launches during the year that go beyond the classic Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. In addition, the Buying process is different: there are no showrooms, usually, the supplier presents his marketing plan (so a real calendar in which we see the focus and the launches) and touch the products by hand and then proceed with the orders.

5. You worked as a Buyer at Limoni and La Gardenia. What differences did you notice compared to La Rinascente?

Limoni and La Gardenia is a pure beauty retailer with an extremely wide network of shops throughout Italy, while La Rinascente is a department store where different realities coexist beside beauty (fashion, jewelry, design, food, etc). One of the most important differences is that in the department store there are the corners of the brands (sometimes real houses since they are big 🙂 The retail world is also much “faster”, so many decisions to be taken with extreme speed in order to beat their competitors.

6. Could you explain some of the technicalities of the buyer’s career? What are sell out and sell through and what do we mean when we talk about guaranteeing coverage and rotation?

To be a buyer you need to have a propensity for analysis. There are billions of Excel files to compile and analyze in order to put a strategy into practice. So many Vlookup, so many pivots and lots of formulas 🙂 Sell out is how many units of a product is selling out to the customer and sell-through is the disposal of a certain product. You need to be able to buy the right products and the right quantities.

7. You are now Category Manager Make up at Sephora, is it somehow related to your previous experience of Buyer? What do you do and who do you mainly work with?

My role is  “holistic” , I always work with all the other departments (from marketing to supply chain, from finance to human resources and so on) There are many pieces to complete for a successful launch or a successful brand: the right products, perfect communication, exposed in the most efficient way and explained by our beauty advisors in the most comprehensible and exhaustive way possible. A complex job, coordination between people … but at the end … what a satisfaction!

8.Sephora is a reality that is still different from the previous ones and part of the LVMH group, how would you describe this environment?

Dynamic, fast, innovative, always full of incredibly interesting ideas and projects that look to the future. Sephora is definitely the reference player in the world of beauty, I think it is beyond doubt. 🙂

9.What do you need to work in a company like Sephora, as well as the passion for beauty?

Grit, passion for the product, analytical skills, interpersonal skills and the knowledge of English as we constantly communicate with our international offices in France (therefore also French is a plus) and with brands that often have no basis in Italy and often not even in Europe.

10.What would you recommend to those who have an interview with a beauty company? How do you prepare yourself and what is better to avoid saying that day?

An advice I give is to get prepared. In the case of a retail reality like Sephora: go to visit the shops, look at the site, and do some brand research. Demonstrating interest and preparation is one of the things I prize most during the talks. So there is nothing I advise against, rather focus on showing that you are proactive and interested.

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